The 113th Congress, First Session: 3 January 2013 – 3 January 2014

The first session of the 113th Congress opened on 1/3/13 and closed exactly 1 year later. In that time, the 535 legislators met for a total of 316 days (156 for the Senate, 160 for the House of Representatives) and considered over 6,700 measures.

The makeup of the 113th Congress was determined by national elections held in the autumn of 2012, in which the 2 main parties maintained their respective majorities, the Democrats in the Senate and the Republicans in the House. The Democrats gained 2 more Senate seats for a total of 55 (including 2 independent senators who caucus with the Democrats) and the Republicans had 234 members in the House despite losing 8 seats.

A total of 124 measures pertinent to Palestine, Israel, or the wider Arab-Israeli conflict were introduced in the opening session of the 113th Congress, a significant increase over the 79 highlighted in the last Congressional Monitor (see JPS 168). Some of these measures carried provisions that were directly relevant, and others either centered on related subjects or initiated debates whose contents were germane.

Three main factors account for the increase, one structural and two circumstantial. As a general rule, a larger number of measures are introduced during an opening session of Congress because of the protracted gestation period necessary for each measure to pass through the requisite chambers and committees, and also because such measures may carry over to the second session (while the converse is not true, i.e., measures in the second session may not be carried over to the opening session of the subsequent Congress). In addition, the escalation of the conflict in Syria and the renewed crisis in Egypt following the military overthrow of Pres. Mohamed Morsi in 7/2013 combined to focus the attention of legislators more intently on the Arab-Israeli arena.

Overview of Legislation

Congressional measures fall into 2 broad categories: bills and joint resolutions that carry the force of law if passed and non-binding measures that, if passed, merely state the views of Congress on a particular issue (simple and concurrent resolutions). Since bills and joint resolutions can become law, they are more consequential, and fewer of them pass. Simple and concurrent resolutions, which cannot become law, typically “recognize,” “urge,” “encourage,” or “support,” and they serve as important indicators of the mood of Congress. Of the 124 relevant measures under discussion, 85 were bills or joint resolutions, of which 5 passed into law, and the remaining 39 were simple or concurrent resolutions (non-binding), only 10 of which passed. Of a total of 15 measures which passed this session, there were 3 large appropriations or authorizations bills, 5 resolutions on Iran, 3 resolutions commemorating Jewish or Israeli history, and 4 largely unrelated bills and resolutions that only covered relevant issues tangentially.

During this opening session, the 113th Congress considered 26 measures which were largely but not completely unrelated to Israel, Palestine, or the wider region; of these, 20 were bills or joint resolutions and the remaining 6 were simple or concurrent resolutions. Of the total 26, half, or 13, were annual authorizations or appropriations bills. Authorizations bills provide the legal authority for government agencies, programs, and depts., and they set funding policies, while appropriations bills approve the funding and transfer of monies to the relevant bodies. It is with such annual measures that Congress manages U.S. government expenditure, restricting or facilitating administration policies. Military assistance to Israel and Egypt, economic and security aid to Palestine, as well as U.S. contributions to relevant international organizations in the region were among the salient issues addressed in these measures.

Of the 13 authorizations and appropriations bills, 3 passed into law: the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013 (*H.R. 933 of 3/6/13), extending the entire federal budget from the 2012 fiscal year (FY 2012) through the end of FY 2013; the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 (*H.R. 2775 of 7/22/13), ending the 10/2013 government shutdown and appropriating funds for the first three and a half months of FY 2014; and the National Defense Authorization Act (*H.R. 3304 of 10/22/13) authorizing Defense Dept. spending in FY 2014, including joint missile defense programs with Israel, crisis response activities relating to Syria, and congressional oversight measures on Iran.

Apart from appropriations and authorizations bills outlined above, the remaining 13 of the largely unrelated measures focused on a wide variety of issues, ranging from restrictions on executive authority (H.R. 3065 of 9/9/13 and H.J. Res. 60 of 9/11/13) and U.S.-Argentina relations (H. Res. 291 of 7/9/13) to the energy sector (H.R. 2231 of 6/6/13), International Press Freedom Day (*S. Res. 143 of 5/16/13), and Greek independence (*S. Res. 84 of 3/20/13). Here, provisions relevant to Israel, the Palestinians, or the Arab-Israeli conflict played a small part. In some cases, Israel, Palestine, and the Arab-Israeli conflict were not even an implicit subject of the measure under consideration but they were brought up during the debate. In others, they were the subject of amendments to these measures which were proposed but not attached. Congress passed 5 of these 13 measures: 2 bills, 2 simple resolutions, and 1 concurrent resolution.

Major Trends

Overall, the priorities of the 113th Congress with respect to Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab-Israeli conflict were similar to those of its predecessors. Therefore, the present discussion of the 124 relevant measures will be broken down into the 3 broad thematic categories established in the previous monitor: (1) those directly or indirectly benefitting Israel; (2) those serving Israel’s interests by undermining its adversaries in the region; (3) those managing U.S. responses to the recent turmoil in Egypt and Syria.

Benefitting Israel

Just over a third, or 45, of the 124 measures under discussion included provisions benefitting Israel, either directly or indirectly (a proportion consistent with that of recent years), of which 35 were bills and 10 simple or concurrent resolutions. The 45 measures can be further broken down into 4 subcategories reflecting specific legislative priorities.

Awarding Military Support: The 14 bills in this category contained provisions that would either transfer military aid to Israel or boost bilateral military cooperation in some way. Included here are 10 appropriations and authorizations bills, among them the 3 that passed into law. Of the remaining 4 bills in this category, 3 would increase support for the Iron Dome missile defense system (H.R. 1130 of 3/13/13, H.R. 2717 of 7/17/13, and H.R. 2701 of 7/16/13), and 1 would expand U.S. capacity for preserving Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (H.R. 1992 of 5/15/13).

Strengthening the U.S.-Israeli Alliance: The 13 bills and 3 concurrent resolutions in this category contained provisions that would strengthen the alliance between the U.S. and Israel and/or boost bilateral cooperation. Of these, 6 measures pertained to the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (e.g. H.R. 104 of 1/3/13). Another 4 bills in this category carried provisions designed to facilitate Israel’s entry into the U.S. visa waiver program (e.g. H.R. 938 of 3/4/13), under which member states’ citizens enjoy an easing of U.S. travel restrictions. The remaining measures in this category would bolster Israel’s position in international forums (S. 1313 of 7/17/13, S. Con. Res. 7 of 3/13/13, and H. Con. Res. 23 of 3/13/13) and expand energy-related scientific cooperation to include natural gas programs (S. 1491 of 9/10/13, H.R. 3677 of 12/9/13, and H.R. 3683 of 12/9/13). None of the measures in this category passed.

Commemorating Israeli and Jewish History: There were 6 bills in this category, along with 3 simple resolutions and 1 concurrent resolution. Two of the bills would provide direct assistance to Holocaust survivors in the U.S. (S. 999 of 5/21/13 and H.R. 2064 of 5/21/13), 2 others would create a new legal avenue for some Holocaust survivors to seek damages (S. 1393 of 7/30/13 and H.R. 1505 of 4/11/13), and the remaining 2 would expand Holocaust-related education programs (S. 925 of 5/9/13 and H.R. 1477 of 4/11/13). The object of the 3 simple resolutions was the recognition of an American-Jewish organization (*S. Res. 299 of 11/19/13) and of heroic actions during the Holocaust (*S. Res. 227 of 9/17/13 and *S. Res. 290 of 11/11/13). The concurrent resolution would have marked the anniversary of Israel’s independence (H. Con. Res. 30 of 4/10/13). All 3 simple resolutions in this category passed, but none of the other measures did.

Displaying Ceremonial Support: Each of the 3 simple and concurrent resolutions and the 2 bills in this category would have offered some type of ceremonial support or recognition for Israeli citizens or policies. Only 1 simple resolution here passed, commending Greece’s relations with Israel and Muslim countries on the anniversary of Greece’s independence (*S. Res. 84 of 3/20/13). The other measures in this category would award Israeli president Shimon Peres a Congressional Gold Medal (H.R. 2939 of 8/1/13 and S. 1456 of 8/1/13) and urge continued support for Israel against its adversaries (H. Res. 98 of 3/5/13 and S. Con. Res. 27 of 11/21/13).

Undermining Israel's Adversaries

Almost one third, or 38, of the 124 measures under discussion included provisions reflecting this legislative priority, of which 19 were bills and 19 simple and concurrent resolutions. They centered on Iran, with a substantial focus on the sanctions program, and on the Palestinians, with whom the U.S. has a historically complex relationship.

During this legislative session, Congress considered 30 measures related to Iran—15 bills and 15 simple and concurrent resolutions. As in previous years, Congressional efforts to pressure Iran were frequently justified on the basis of Israeli security concerns. Iran garnered intense congressional attention during the session as new facets of the U.S.-Iran relationship emerged in the wake of Iranian president Hassan Ruhani’s election in June 2013 and the ensuing high-level negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. In light of those developments, legislative measures on Iran in the first session of the 113th Congress can be divided into 2 main subcategories.

Managing Sanctions: Although Congress passed no new measures strengthening sanctions against Iran, the subject was one of perpetual interest to many legislators, with some 15 measures either referring to or focusing on sanctions—11 bills and 4 simple and concurrent resolutions. Measures of note in this category included the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850 of 2/27/13) and the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (S. 1881 of 12/19/13), which served as the main vehicles of Congressional support for new sanctions in their respective chambers.

Influencing Diplomacy: Both in the lead-up to the election of President Ruhani on 6/4/13 and throughout the ensuing period of multilateral negotiations, Congress sought to influence and shape the U.S.-Iran relationship in a variety of ways. Among them were the 15 measures in this category—4 bills and 11 simple resolutions—urging the Obama administration to take specific actions on the nuclear negotiations (e.g. S. Res. 252 of 9/24/13), calling for political changes in Iran (e.g. *S. Res. 154 of 5/23/13), requesting the release of certain political prisoners in Iran (e.g. S. Res. 312 of 12/9/13), increasing congressional oversight of the Defense Dept. (*H.R. 3304 of 10/22/13), and putting forward parameters for the nuclear negotiations that would effectively restrict the process (e.g. H.R. 3292 of 10/15/13). None of the bills and 4 resolutions passed.

The remaining 8 measures in this rubric focused or carried provisions on Palestinian affairs. Of the 4 resolutions, 3 reiterated Congress’s support for a two-state solution (e.g. H. Res. 238 of 5/23/13) and 1 called on Palestinian Authority (PA) Pres. Mahmud Abbas to “clarify a presidential succession plan” (H. Res. 177 of 4/23/13). Of the 4 bills, 3 were large appropriations and authorizations bills of which security assistance to the PA and economic support for Palestinian society formed only a small part (e.g. *H.R. 933 of 3/6/13). The last bill, titled “The Palestinian Accountability Act,” would institute a series of conditions and restrictions on further assistance to Palestinians (H.R. 1337 of 3/21/13). One of the bills, and none of the resolutions, passed.

Regional Reaction - Syria

The growing conflict in Syria, especially the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on 8/21/13, led to a sharp spike in congressional measures aimed at Syria in comparison with previous years. Each of the 33 measures here—26 bills and joint resolutions and 7 simple and concurrent resolutions—sought to define the nature of the U.S. response to the conflict. Because the administration’s policy on Syria was evolving throughout the year, many of the 26 bills in this category were comprehensive measures addressing multiple ongoing policy questions. These included: whether or not to provide assistance to Syrian rebel groups (e.g. S. 856 of 5/6/13 and H.R. 5303 of 6/25/13); how much humanitarian assistance to offer neighboring countries (e.g. *H.R. 3304 of 10/22/13); whether the U.S. should facilitate regime change in Syria (e.g. S. 617 of 3/19/13); and, the question that garnered the most media attention, whether or not to authorize military force in response to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons (e.g. S. J. Res. 21 of 9/6/13). Of the 7 resolutions, 3 called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to put human rights abusers in Syria on trial (e.g. S. Res. 219 of 9/9/13), 2 urged a peaceful resolution to the conflict (e.g. H. Res. 223 of 5/17/13), 1 commented on the president’s right to initiate military action (H. Con. Res.40 of 6/20/13), and 1 decried the lack of press freedom in Syria (*S. Res. 143 of 5/16/13). In this category, 1 of the simple resolutions and 3 of the bills passed.

Regional Reaction - Egypt

As with Syria, the turbulent political situation in Egypt, particularly the military overthrow of Pres. Mohamed Morsi in 7/2013, accounted for the increase in the number of congressional measures considered in this session. The 19 measures in this category—18 bills and 1 simple resolution—sought to clarify or influence the evolving U.S. relationship with a changing Egypt. In almost every case, the measures call for the protection of Israel’s interests with provisions to ensure Egypt’s continued adherence to the two countries’ 1979 peace treaty. Of the 19 measures, 5 bills and 1 resolution would either prohibit unconditionally any U.S. assistance to Egypt or urge the prohibition of such assistance in whole or in part (e.g. H.R. 276 of 1/15/13), 11 bills would condition or obstruct aid to Egypt (e.g. H.R. 416 of 1/25/13), and 2 bills were simply vehicles for Egypt-related amendments that were proposed, but not attached (e.g. S. 1243 of 6/27/13). Ultimately, only 2 bills passed, with minimal content on Egypt.